What makes the Contiki experience so meaningful? Guest blogger Johnny Newnes shares his taken on how his trip to Italy was a life-changing experience.
Ciao Contiki! It’s Johnny here again with my final guest blog post. Remember me? You know, I was the guy that went to Italy on Contiki’s Simply Italy in September and it was basically the best time of my life? Well, if you need a refresher, please see my last guest posts here: Preparing to Travel to Italy, Travel to Italy and Eating Italy
Anyway, as we move swiftly into 2015, I can’t help but let my mind wander from time to time back to those two weeks in September and October when I ran free through Italy with Contiki. Honestly, in my 23 years of life, that trip is the best thing I have done thus far. I visited and explored my number one destination in the world, I connected with my heritage, I fed my predominant inner foodie in ways he never dreamt possible, and I touched history everywhere I went. These, however, are not the only reasons why this adventure was the best of my life so far. The most important reason why Simply Italy was so wonderful for me was because of the people I experienced it all with.
When you travel with Contiki, you are placed into a group of people in your generation who are also eager to travel and see the world, and you are basically living with them for the next few weeks or months depending on how long your tour is. As you experience new cultures, foods, and adventures, you simply cannot help but begin to grow close to those with whom you are experiencing all of these wonderful things that travel brings. I’ve only been on this one Contiki tour, but I know I speak for everyone in my group when I say that we quickly became a family. I honestly feel that it was destiny that we were all on Simply Italy September 28th-October 9th together, because I know that I made life-long friends with these people.
I met several members of our group before our tour began as many of us arrived in Rome a day or two early to squeeze in a little more adventuring. On my second day in Rome, a group of us ran around taking in the eternal city. We had lunch at a little quite café and I would say by the end of that lunch, we felt like we had known each other our whole lives. There is something very comforting about finding a group of like-minded adventurous individuals who speak your native tongue when you are in a foreign country. Later that day, this little group of ours met up with the larger Contiki group at our official meet up; and it was there that even more friendships began to blossom. By the end of our first dinner that night, that feeling of family was beginning to warm everyone’s hearts.
With each bus ride and adventure thereafter, many of the friendships began to strengthen and become more permanent, and the general feeling of the whole group as a family began to become more tangible. Everywhere that we went we laughed, we cried, we took inhalations of amazement at the sights we were seeing; we were experiencing life changing events together. There is a wonderful quote written by J.K Rowling in the first Harry Potter book; “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve foot mountain troll is one of them”. This quote speaks to my experience and these friendships quite beautifully. We just couldn’t share all these mind-blowing experiences like walking in the ancient streets of Pompeii, swimming through the Green Grotto in Capri, and climbing the Duomo in Florence without liking each other more and more as our journeys continued.
By the last day of the tour, it was painful to think about parting with my new loved ones. There were tears shed and many hugs given as we said our goodbyes and boarded our planes back to our homes to return to normal life. However, even as I said goodbye to these beautiful people, I was certain that I had made friends that I would be in touch with until the very end. It is because of this trip, I now have friends across America, Canada, Australia, and even India. And I am certain that I will see many of them again in my future.
The truth is, even as we have all returned to our normal everyday routines, most of us still talk almost every day. We have a Facebook group just for those in our tour and we are all constantly posting pictures and chatting within the group. And I have to say, it has been fun to see a glimpse into the daily lives of my new friends.
As I have mentioned in my previous posts, I became particularly close with a few people on our tour; three of which are Charlene, Dion, and Rachel. We have already had a Skyping date where we talked and laughed for two hours as if we were back on the Contiki bus. In fact, the four of us are planning to do another Contiki trip together sometime in 2016. How cool will that be for the four us to reunite over in Europe again for a whole new adventure?! I smile every time I think about it.
Some of my Contiki friends have already been to visit me here in Southern California. Another couple I became close with, Leila and Eric, came to San Diego to visit some college friends in December and I got to hang out with them for a night. It was so cool having met them in Italy, and then reuniting with them so close to my home. It was really special seeing them again.
I know that many other people from the tour are planning meet ups for the summertime, like many of the far North American dwellers and the Canadians are meeting up in Calgary for Stampede this summer. That will be a hoot! I travel to New York often as I have several friends in the city; the next time I visit I can’t wait to see my roommate from the trip and good friend, Nick! And lucky for me, I live in a tourist destination (I am 25 minutes away from Disneyland) so there is talk about many of my Contiki members coming here and meeting up with me!
The point is that when you travel like I did with this tour, you are opening the door to not only adventures and experiences, but also wonderful relationships as well. I had the time of my life on Simply Italy, and I owe much of that to my new friends. I have our group photo from Florence posted on the wall in my room. And whenever I look at this photo, or even whenever I think of my time in Italy, I think of my new friends with much fondness and love. I wish you many new friends and loved ones in your travels as I have found in mine.
It has been a great honor writing for Contiki over the past few months. I hope to do so again soon when I travel next with Contiki. Until next time my friends, ciao!
Photos of my Contiki friends and I plus a few words:
Elisa, our Italian tour manager. I’ve mentioned her and her awesomeness in my previous posts, but let me elaborate here. Elisa was a real blessing to all of us on this trip. Elisa went above and beyond as she made sure that every single one of us was happy and getting to experience all that we longed for. Time and again she went out of her way to make sure that our trip was memorable on a group level and a personal level. She made us laugh to the point of tears. And she made me very, very happy. I found myself grinning ear to ear whenever I got the chance to talk to her one on one. Though she was my tour manager, I would now consider her a close friend. And after sitting with her on several occasions and learning of her life, I would say that world is a better place for having her in it. Ti amo Elisa, sempre!
Charlene, Dion, and Rachel. Now, everyone from our group knows that I LOVE THEM ALL! However, it was clear that I really super connected with these three. We were a little quadrant squad on our trip, like the 4 Musketeers. I truly love these people and can’t imagine not knowing them at this point. I am counting down the days until we do our next Contiki together (or I get sick of my normal life before then, kidnap Rachel, and fly to Australia to stay with Charlene and Dion). Love you my little drop bears! (inside joke)
Eric and Leila. These two were so much fun. And so cool: they got engaged on our tour! That was such a memorable day! I’ve already gotten to reconnect with them. The picture with the Christmas lights is when they came to visit in San Diego, CA!
Nick. Nick was my roommate on this trip, and I could not have asked for a better roommate. He is one of the nicest and most down to Earth guys I know. I can’t wait to see him sometime in NYC!
Brittani. I can’t find any pictures of just me and Brittani, but she is here on the far right. Brittani is honestly one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known and I think the world is a better place for having her. I always loved being around her. She is only a couple states away in Colorado so I hope to see her sooner rather than later!
My 2nd day in Rome with our little pre-Contiki group. I hung out in the city with these fine people before our official meet up and had so much fun! Rach and Adriana are the sweetest and Zoe is very often hysterical.
Here are more group shots of my amazing friends!
“Up in the club” in Florence!
Selfies in Rome.
Being wild in Florence.
Fancy dinner in Florence!
Cappuccinos in Venice!
Basking in the Sorrento Sun.
Exploring Venice by night.
Final dinner in Rome
Every one, and I love them all!